Expanding the Community-Based Dental Health Program in North Tahoe

Volunteers at Incline Dental Screening

Volunteers at Incline Dental Screening

Persistence, continued commitment to operations, and a wide network of supportive stakeholders paid off recently in the expansion of the community-based dental program in North Lake Tahoe. From our usual routine of one biannual free dental screening for kids held in Incline Village, NV, we expanded this past month to include two additional events: a School Varnishing Project at Incline Elementary School, and a Dental Screening Event in Kings Beach, CA, just over the state line.

The events finally took place in April, three years after two Tahoe Forest Health System volunteers and I delivered the first proposal to provide free fluoride varnish and oral health education at our local elementary school. Approved by Washoe County School District (Reno) as a "pilot project," only students in pre-K and Kindergarten were included.

All 90+ of these students received oral health education and 36 whose parent signed consent received fluoride varnish, 25 of whom had not previously been seen at a community-based screening event.  Parents of 12 children were informed of the need for further evaluation by a dentist.

Several individuals and organizations are to thank for their contributions to this event. Tessie Vukovich, the dental hygienist from Dr. Matt Milligan’s Office provided the fluoride application and dental education. Dr. Matthew Gustafsson, pediatric dentist who has supervised several North Tahoe Community Dental Screenings, provided the varnish. The non-profit, Oral Health Nevada, provided toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss for all children. The school Administrator and Nurse provided guidance and the venue. Three other volunteers assisted during the morning and afternoon sessions. The children, parents, teachers, and school staff all provided positive feedback. The best feedback came from several teachers and students in other grades who asked why the entire school was not included in the event. Suggestions for improvement were requested and will be implemented at the next event to be held prior to Halloween.

One week after the school event, we held our biannual Dental Screening in Incline Village during a full-on winter snowstorm. Though the TMCC student hygienists and volunteer registrar could not make the 40-mile trip up the mountain from Reno, 3 other hygienists helped out, as well as Dr. Gustafsson with more varnish. We also had 3 additional volunteers help out, including Gwen Straley from 3rd Creek Foundation. Although only 7 children came, all were new to the event, and two were in need of urgent treatment - one a 4 year old with all teeth rotten to the gum-line and –an adolescent with 3 serious cavities requiring either root canals or extractions.  Both of these children have been referred to Community Health Alliance in Reno for discounted care.

The week after the screening event in Incline Village, the North Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center held the first Dental Screening Event in Kings Beach at their facility. This event, modeled on the Incline event, was overseen by Dr. Gustafsson and run by another set of volunteers, including dental assistants from Dr. Karen Kucharski’s Office. Of the 32 children seen, 11 were referred for treatment.

Although we continue to make progress on the preventive oral health front, access to affordable dental care remains a major need for kids in North Lake Tahoe. Ways to garner more participation by local dentists and further expand access to preventive oral health education and fluoride will continue to be our focus for some time to come. 


Pam Straley is a founder and board member of 3rd Creek Foundation. She is an M.S., R.N., and Family Nurse Practitioner with a diverse background in nursing and health care administration. Her international career took off in 1974, when she joined the Peace Corps in Nicaragua as a community health volunteer. Recognizing her passion for global health, Pam continued to work with medical centers in Costa Rica and Indonesia. She has also consulted for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as its HIV/AIDS Prevention Project Manager in Zambia, as well as for the American Public Health Association, and Peace Corps. Most recently Pam served as Manager of a clinic in Incline Village serving low income, uninsured residents of Northern Nevada. Pamela earned her B.S.N. at California State Long Beach (1970), and M.S.N./F.N.P at the University of California, San Francisco (1985). She has published a health education manual and guide to general health services for foreigners in Indonesia.